You are the Music – Book Preview

You are the Music demy.inddYou Are the Music: How Music Reveals What it Means to be Human
by Victoria Williamson

A deft, unique exploration of how music makes us who we are, throughout our lives.

This looks like an interesting book for anyone interested in music and the power it wields in the human experience.  I don’t yet have a copy, but I will certainly be seeking it out. Here is a little taste of the subject matter (taken from Good Reads):

‘You are the music / While the music lasts’
T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets

“Do babies remember music from the womb? Can classical music increase your child’s IQ? Is music good for productivity? Can it aid recovery from illness and injury? And what is going on in your brain when Ultravox’s ‘Vienna’, Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht or Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Bonkers’ transports you back to teenage years?

In a brilliant new work that will delight music lovers of every persuasion, music psychologist Victoria Williamson examines our relationship with music across the whole of a lifetime.
Along the way she reveals the amazing ways in which music can physically reshape our brains, explores how ‘smart music listening’ can improve cognitive performance, and considers the perennial puzzle of what causes ‘earworms’.

Requiring no specialist musical or scientific knowledge, this upbeat, eye-opening book reveals as never before the extent of the universal language of music that lives deep inside us all.”

Paperback, 272 pages
Expected publication: March 6th 2014 by Icon Books
original title:You Are the Music: How Music Reveals What it Means to be Human
ISBN13 9781848316539

Book Review: ‘One Forever’

One Forever‘ by Rory Shiner (Matthias Media 2012) One forever2

When you think of yourself being “in Christ” what do you think of? How would you explain this gospel truth? It is much easier to understand Christianity in terms of believing in Christ, or following Christ or knowing Christ. Yet this “in Christ” terminology is favoured by the New Testament writers, Paul especially. It is also packed with the wondrous grace of God shown in the gift of His Son.
If you want to understand better what it means to be IN Christ then this book is for you.
Published in 2012 and written by Australian pastor Rory Shiner One Forever: The Transforming Power of Being in Christ explores so many facets of what this phrase means, in just seven chapters. His writing is conversational and friendly, accessible to most adults and probably many youth. His illustrations are easy to understand, yet the concepts are deep and his pastoral heart is clear. Rory wants us to have the confidence and certainty of being IN Christ, even if our faith is small.
Here are some of the main ideas he explores:

1. To be a Christian is to be in Christ.
“To be a Christian is to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is to believe into him. It is to clothe yourself with him.” p40

2. The size of your faith does not matter. The power of the one you have faith in does.

3. Justification is not up to us or our efforts.
Justification is objective. “Justification was not achieved in my heart but on a cross outside Jerusalem”.
“Justification is one of the great joy factories of the Christian life”.

4. We are united with Christ in his death and his righteousness and his resurrection.
If we only think of ourselves as following Christ or knowing Christ or being near Christ then we don’t capture what union captures. p58. “Union with Christ is our defence against the playground bullies of sins and temptation.” p56

5. We are right before God because we are in Christ and HE is right before God.
“To stand in Christ is to stand in a place where the wrath of God will never be felt because wrath of God has already been there.” p36

6. Christians aren’t just ‘not perfect but forgiven’, they ‘forgiven and they are united to christ . . . indwelt by the Spirit of God, and they are empowered by God to live a new life. p 62

7. Christ identifies so closely with the Church, His church is His body, He is the Church. When his church is persecuted Christ is persecuted p.70, 68, “Church is the most concrete expression of your union with Christ.” p.73.
“The distinction we make between how we treat Christ and how we treat his gathered people is not a distinction that Jesus makes” (p74).

8. In the case of the weakest and most broken members of our churches, their very brokenness is their gift to the church. They gift to the church their brokenness, and as we are drawn out of ourselves to serve them, we learn how to be the body of Christ. p.72

Now if that has not whet your appetite to better understand the treasure of what it means to be “in Christ”, check out the video below which is designed to explain a little more. And you can find the book at Matthias, Koorong, and Amazon. I hope it will be a blessing to you!

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Don’t be ashamed to wear your crown


“I hate when I look in my closet and find clothes instead of Narnia.”  H.B. Bolton

The song GOLD by Britt Nicole carries a great message for her audience. In summary: for all the girls and boys all over the world, it doesn’t matter what you’ve been told, you are worth more than gold. In fact, you’re a king, a queen, inside and out. Don’t be afraid to hold your head up high and wear your crown. (Full lyrics and a great film clip are below)

I can’t help thinking that this is the very same message C.S.Lewis brings to children (of all ages) in his adventures to Narnia. In Aslan’s realm, the children are crowned as rulers over the kingdom, with special gifts and talents given them. They are afforded great power and respect from all creatures.

“To the glistening eastern sea, I give you Queen Lucy the Valiant. To the great western woods, King Edmund the Just. To the radiant southern sun, Queen Susan the Gentle. And to the clear northern skies, I give you King Peter the Magnificent. Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia. May your wisdom grace us until the stars rain down from the heavens.” C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Yet back through the wardrobe, back in ‘reality’ they are simply children, children who should be seen and not heard. In this reality we adult humans can see ourselves in this way, as very ordinary people, accidents of biology, mere vapours. We can be despondent about our very existence, and become dependent on the affirmations of others. We can think we must impress others to ‘justify our own existence’. (Have you seen that awful bumper sticker?) We need to remember the reality of the spiritual realm, of God, and the intent God had for us, for the creatures he made in his own image. We were designed to be his image-bearers, designed to give glory to him as we display his character for all to see. (If you are not yet convinced of the existence of a Creator and the spiritual realm, check out this book – “Rumours of another world” – Max Lucado)

The Lord has crowned us as rulers over creation:
“What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor and put everything under their feet.”
(Hebrews 2:6-8)

He has Crowned us as co-heirs with Christ, if we are in Christ. We are stunningly individual and unique people who all play a vital role within His Body here on planet earth (see 1 Corinthians 12).

We are to shine like stars as witnesses to those in the heavenly realms:
“Do everything without grumbling or arguing,so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.” (Philippians 2:14-16)

As Britt Nicole would say, we shouldn’t be ashamed to wear our crown. Don’t wait for the world to affirm your existence. God made you, for a reason.

GOLD crown

Oh, oh, oh, oh Oh, oh, oh, oh

You were walking on the moon, now you’re feeling low
What they said wasn’t true, you’re beautiful
Sticks and stones break your bones, I know what you’re feeling
Words like those won’t steal your glow, you’re one in a million years

This is for all the girls, boys all over the world
Whatever you’ve been told, you’re worth more than gold
So hold your head up high, it’s your time to shine
From the inside out it shows, you’re worth more than gold (Gold gold, you’re gold)
You’re worth more than gold (Gold gold you’re gold)

Well everybody keeps score, afraid you’re gonna lose
Just ignore they don’t know the real you
All the rain in the sky can’t put out your fire all the stars out tonight, you shine brighter

So don’t let anybody tell you that you’re not loved
And don’t let anybody tell you that you’re not enough
Yeah there are days when we all feel like we’re messed up
But the truth is that we’re all diamonds in the rough
So don’t be ashamed to wear your crown
You’re a king you’re a queen inside and out
You glow like the moon, you shine like the stars
This is for you, wherever you are

So don’t be ashamed to wear your crown You’re a king you’re a queen inside and out

You may also like Britt Nicole’s STAND

And these other posts:

Jesus wants me for a sunbeam – or maybe a firework                     It’s always a good time
shineImage created by Sarah Danaher with a Canon EOS 5D MkII

God’s Word leads us in prayer

prayer2Sometimes we can feel like our prayers are going unanswered, or that our feeble efforts to be consistent and persistent in prayer mean God probably doesn’t even want to answer! But God is not like us. He is compassionate and gracious. His grace is new every morning.

“Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.” (Psalm 116:2)

If you need help to get praying again there are plenty of books to read on the topic. There is also journalling, prayer partners and other methods to try. But today I’d like to suggest a few simple points (courtesy of John Piper) to remind you that the greatest help for the practice of prayer is probably God’s Word itself. Consider the following reasons why:

  1. Much of the Bible is prayer (most of the Psalms especially).
  2. The Bible is full of commands and encouragements for us to pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
  3. We are told to pray according to the will of God (1 John 5:14 ), and the Bible is the revealed will of God.
  4. The Word of God cannot be truly desired (Psalm 119:36) or spiritually comprehended (Psalm 119:18) or savingly spoken (2 Thessalonians 3:1) without the work of the Holy Spirit, whom we ask for by prayer.
  5. Being saturated with the Word of God produces an effective prayer life: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you , ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).

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The blessed and God-breathed Book (2 Timothy 3:16)

GodBreathed_slide1x_365_y_273This is one of the most breath-taking Three Sixteens, one which you may have already committed to memory.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 is that great statement of assurance concerning God’s Word, the Bible, the God-breathed book on which we build our faith.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (ESV)

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realise what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (NLT)

I recently read through 2 Timothy with a friend, over several weeks and many great coffees! The whole letter is a call to persevere in the faith, despite persecutions and difficult people. These are (possibly) Paul’s parting and most important words. He wants Timothy to stick to the truth of the Scriptures, which he’d been taught from his earliest days. (For Timothy this would mean the Old Testament scriptures as well as the teachings of the apostles.) There are so many treasures in this 3:16 (and 17), but I’ll focus on just three points:

1. The Word is God-breathed:  Just as we speak with our actual breath, which forms and carries the sounds of our words, so it is with God’s breath. He has exhaled these words, he has breathed them into the minds and hearts of people who have faithfully written them down, carried along by the Holy Spirit who always does the Father’s will. How else could this extraordinary book, penned by so many authors across millennia, have such consistency and unity of message? This is His Word to us and he has ensured that his breath, his voice, will continue to be heard as we await the return of Christ, the Word of God.

I love what Peter Blowes says about the way the words of the omnipresent and eternal God apply across all time and space:
“. . . God had every reader of Holy Scripture in mind at the time of its ‘exhalation’. This means not only that God’s word is inspired and universally applicable, but also that, in it, God is speaking presently to every particular reader (or hearer) of his Word.” (2011, “Reading the Bible”, Matthias Minizine). 
This leads to my second point.

2. Reading the Word is the most profitable thing we can do.
More than the early morning coffee, jog, paper, news update, more than crossing things off our to do list, more than any amount of television viewing, study or social media, more than relaxing with the family, more than making money .  . . investing in the Word of God is THE most profitable thing we can do. The world shouts at us, calling for our attention, telling us that those ancient words are dead, irrelevant and useless. But as we immerse ourselves more and more in his Word we understand why reading it is the most profitable thing we can do. By reading we come to know our immortal, invisible, all wise, good and gracious God. The Spirit works in us and we grow in confidence of his power, his might and the reality of his work in our world and hearts. We grow in the certainty of our salvation won in Christ.

3. The Word is wonderfully sufficient, equipping us for every good work.
The Bible equips us not by containing enough lists of do’s and don’ts to train us how to do good in every situation (this is the world’s view of the “good book” – which shouldn’t be ours. Christ has fulfilled the law!) Instead, the Word of God equips us by making us more like Christ – who is entirely and always about the Father’s good work. The Word changes us from the inside out and drives our behaviour. This behaviour becomes good work, good fruit (like those good works prepared in advance for us, which Paul described in Ephesians 2:8-10).

John Piper explains well:
Bearing fruit in “every good work” (see Colossians 1:10 ) means that it comes out on the branches of your life naturally from something that has changed inside. And what has changed is that you are dead to the law as a set of lists to constrain from the outside, and are now united to Jesus Christ in a relationship of joyful trust so that when he speaks—even speaks some of that same law—it comes from within as the desire of your heart. . . .The Scripture, day after day, reveals to us the greatness and the beauty and the power and the wisdom and the mercy of all that God is for us in Christ so that by the power of the Spirit we find our joy in him, and the ways of sin become distasteful—indeed ugly and repugnant. Yes the Bible gives us many specifics as pointers how to live. But most deeply the way the Bible equips us for every good work is by changing what we find satisfaction in so that our obedience comes from within freely, not by coercion from without. It does this when we read it and meditate on it and memorize it and meditate over it every day.”
(John Piper from Desiring God)

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Two books I’ve got to get hold of!

During this week I came across reviews of several new books which may be very useful for those of you in the role of music/worship leader at your church. If it has been a while since you’ve read an actual book on such topics, these two look worth the effort!

“…the gathering is unique not as an encounter with God (it is that, though God’s presence is a constantly available comfort and help to the Christian); rather it’s unique because it is an encounter with the people of God, filled with the Spirit of God, spurring one another along in the mission of God. Christ in me meets Christ in you.”

These words come from a new book Rhythms of Grace (2013), There is a good, detailed review at Chong’s worship, which I’ll share some of here. It certainly whets my appetite for more thinking about music ministry:

RHYTHMS OF GRACE: How The Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel by Mike Cosper

rhythms of grace“What I appreciated: I finished this book loving Jesus – our true worship leader – more, and inspired to press on in retelling the gospel story when we gather as a church. Reading the first four chapters of the book is biblical theology at its breathtaking best, imaginatively told and left me (numerous times) grateful for God’s redemptive plan throughout history. If that’s where the book ended, it would already have been a worthwhile read!

When tackling more contentious issues of musical style, sound, vision etc. Mike has a gracious tone coupled with a rapier wit that leaves you embarrassed to disagree with him, and appreciative of the wisdom he’s curated from many helpful thinkers. I particularly appreciated:

  • his great explanation of John 4:24′s worship in Spirit and in Truth”
  • his critique of the Temple Model of worship planning (leading people into the throne room of God in music)
  • his appeal for worship planning and leading to be seen as a pastoral task.
  • his appeal for repetition and using non-singing elements in gathered worship (e.g. prayers, creeds, readings)

Most churches lack any real theology for worship, and most church leaders don’t know why the church is gathering, and what the goal is. Mike gives a concise yet thorough primer, rooted in Scripture and history, to answer all this. He doesn’t answer every question in-depth, and you don’t get a stand-alone, one-sentence definition of worship. But after reading this book you’ll definitely understand worship from a more biblical, gospel-centred, historically-rooted and theologically grounded perspective.”  READ THE FULL ARTICLE
(or purchase here)

The second book is:

Doxology and Theology: How the Gospel Forms the Worship Leader by Matt Boswell and friends (2013)


Worship—whether you’re talking about singing (in the narrowest sense) or every thought, word and deed (in the broadest sense)—has long been a source of fascination/frustration for me. we need a better, more robust theology of worship. Matt Boswell and co. have done an impressive job on this one. Here’s a great example from Zac Hicks’ chapter, “The Worship Leader and the Trinity:”

Many in recent years have commented on the anemic state of much of evangelical worship in the twenty-first century. We are me-focused, a-theological, biblically illiterate, and entertainment-saturated, they say. Many of these critics offer a prescription for recovery, ranging from things as practical as a reform of liturgy or musical styles to things as philosophical as media ecology and aesthetics. I’m convinced, though, that many of these (important) observations find resolution when we begin to be more intentional as worshippers, worship planners, and worship leaders about allowing our worship to take the shape of our beloved Object.  (Learn more or buy it at: Amazon)
This review comes from Blogging Theologically

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Music Ministry Training Paper                      A shot in the arm for your church music team

The power of a foolish Cross – and how to make the most of it

Cross“The message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Making the Most of the Cross” (2011, Matthias media) is a book which gets right to the heart of Christianity, the Cross of Jesus Christ. It takes us on a tour of the riches God offers us at the Cross, and how to make the most of them, to grow our confidence in God. In less than 100 pages of fairly large print, author John Chapman examines two main topics: the death of Jesus and His resurrection.  Chapman writes in a simple yet engaging manner, with the clever wit of a seasoned preacher and evangelist.  He explains fully, yet clearly and in short chapters, who Jesus was and why he had to die. It is an excellent book for Christians to read, to revisit the basics of the Gospel and be challenged again by the grace of God. But it is also especially good for newcomers to the faith. It would make a great companion for home reading in conjunction with a course like ‘Christianity Explained’, ‘Christianity Explored’ or ‘Introducing God’ – or simply for extra reading for someone new to Jesus and the message of the Cross. Each chapter contains plenty of discussion from the big story of the bible to help people grasp God’s redemptive plan and how it is fulfilled in Jesus. There is a suggested short prayer at the end of each chapter, to pull together and apply what has been discussed.

For Chapman, Jesus’ death is “unique, unrepeatable and sufficient for all who turn to him” (p24). Chapman impresses on his readers that salvation is at the heart of what Jesus was about. Along the way he is not afraid to discuss God’s wrath (the reason we need salvation!) and to answer common objections, such as the belief that God is a vindictive child abuser (p26): “The Father did not force any punishment upon the Son; the Son himself chose to bear it on our behalf because of His love for us. That is anything but child abuse.” Jesus’ death turns away God’s anger, brings the defeat of Satan and justifies sinners. God is just, He punishes sin and love sinners. These are the clear concepts Chapman wants to reinforce.

I particularly enjoyed chapter 7 which explored the way ‘Jesus’ death is the unifying force in the Christian community’. He says we are “made acceptable to one another because of Christ. . . Understanding this truth is wonderfully liberating. We are free to be ourselves. There is no need to pretend. It doesn’t matter what you find out about my past, or what I might discover about yours. It is all deal with in the death of Jesus. That is the basis of acceptability. We are all sinners saved by grace.”
He then challenges us to apply this to how we treat others, to conduct radical surgery on our thinking, to accept and love others even (especially?) when it’s incovenient.

The second half of the book looks at the Resurrection across seven chapters. Of particular interest was his discussion of our ‘resurrection bodies’  This is a pretty difficult concept for people to grasp, but using texts from 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 21, Chapman makes it clear that we won’t be disembodied spirits floating around forever on clouds. He says Christ will take up our bodies “and transform them so they will be breathtaking! They will be immortal, imperishable, powerful, glorious and spiritual. They will be perfectly suited to the new creation. . . When I see the apostles relating to the risen Lord Jesus, I can see how it will be. I can see that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus means that there really is eternal life; there really is a new world in which we will live and relate to each other and to the Lord Jesus Christ” (p83-84).

13CHAPMANOne great thing about reading “Making the most of the Cross” is knowing that the author, John Chapman, can now see the reality of the things he has written about, the things he has long hoped for.  Last year, after 82 years, John Chapman went to be with the Lord.  We can take great encouragement from his faithful ministry – and his many books – of which this is most worthy of a read! Buy two and pass one on today. (Buy here)

Some of Chapman’s other books include:

  • Know and Tell the Gospel: a coherent and highly influential theological account not only of the gospel but of the involvement of every Christian in its spread
  • A Fresh Start: the most widely used gospel give-away book of the past 30 years
  • Setting Hearts on Fire: an inspiring and informative training resource for evangelistic preachers
  • A Sinner’s Guide to Holiness: a short guidebook on how the gospel calls sinners to a holy life as the fruit, not the means, of salvation
  • A Foot in Two Worlds: a simple guide to the eschatology of the gospel—that we belong to the next age but live out our salvation in this evil age
  • Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life: an evangelistic book for seniors on the meaning of eternal life
  • Making the Most of the Cross: a simple exposition of the key facets of the death and resurrection of Jesus
  • Making the Most of the Bible: a simple argument for the authority and sufficiency of Scripture as a necessary corollary of our faith in Jesus as Lord.

Science and God: still playing on the same team

While the “new athiest” movement is doing its best to persuade people otherwise, there remains an incredible amount of harmony between the world of scientific knowledge and the Christian faith. The main reason why this (perhaps unrecognised) harmony is possible is that science and faith are really asking different types of questions about the universe. This means that ultimately we don’t have to pick one team or the other! These thoughts are the subject of Scott Petty’s most engaging Little Black Book “Science and God” (part of a series published by Matthias Media, 2011).

Petty begins by asking us to consider whether or not fact and faith really are locked in a tenacious battle to the death, which is by and large the way popular culture presents the issue. And the winner of this battle, we are told, will be Science! with Faith backed only by rigid conservative moralists – and stupid people! We need to look beyond these popular portrayals of the issue to see that science and Christianity have in fact enjoyed a long friendship stretching back centuries. Petty cites evidence of many science-focused Christians, past and present, who have advanced scientific research and knowledge. And such findings in no way contradict the claims of the Bible.

This is the heart of the matter: science and faith are answering different questions. One answers the question of how the universe works – the other answers the question of why the universe exists. “Just because we think we have understood the mechanism or operation of something in the universe without bring in God does not mean that there was no God who designed the universe in the beginning.” Petty uses a great illustration of the Ford motor car: gaining knowledge of the workings of the car does not negate the fact that Ford designed it, even though, within the car, Henry Ford is no where to be found. God may not visible to the human eye, but it would be a big mistake to dismiss the Him as designer, without precious scientific evidence to prove his non-existence (if that is what you are placing your faith in).

This book has a great deal more to offer, particularly regarding how the Big Bang theory (not the TV show) matches well with God’s explanation for the Creation moment, that single definite point at which the universe was created, out of nothing! Petty shares recent evidence from Hubble telescope and other research to back this. “It denies plain reason to say that no-one created something out of nothing, and it demolishes the building blocks of science to say that when it comes to the universe, there is no cause”.

Chapter 3 of this little book explores all the factors which work together to support life on the planet, things like gravity and the atmosphere. Petty then moves onto the ultimate chicken and egg problem of human DNA: “if you believe life emerged from non-living things like chemicals and such” you have problem, says Petty. “DNA relies on proteins for its production. But proteins rely on DNA for their existence. So which came first? Each must be present for the other to be made. It seems neither proteins nor DNA could create themselves”.

Petty deals with each of these points in good detail and with appropriate references to reputable studies. He also tackles the big “challenge” of evolution in a clear and effective manner, diffusing the bomb that some people see it to be. He also discusses the language and purpose of the biblical Creation account in a refreshing way, offering perspectives you may not have previously considered. But rather than give all that away, I’ll leave it with you to get a hold of the book and read it for yourself. Make sure you then pass it on to someone who finds the whole Science/Faith debate to be a real challenge. It would be a great book for your church or council library, for youth groups, university or highschool students – or anyone like you or me who live on this planet and must wrestle with these issues. There are only 96 pages of reading (and the pages are small, size of a CD case), with a helpful Q and A section at the end. Petty concludes with a friendly challenge to the reader, to consider that while scientific knowledge is useful, it is the personal and relational knowledge of God, through his Son, that counts most.
“God is not afraid of science, and he also knows that it’s not enough if we are to know him. In the past he spoke through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son”.

You can buy a copy of the book directly from Matthias Media by clicking here.

A shot in the arm for your church music team

Sometimes being part of a church music team/worship band is an inspiring and encouraging thing, something you absolutely enjoy and look forward to. But other times it can become a bit of a drag, unfortunately! And if you are the leader, and you are experiencing the latter emotions, then oh dear! This is not good news for anyone, especially the congregation. Something needs to change and fast.
What to do?
The Cambridge online dictionary defines “a shot in the arm” as something which has a sudden and positive effect on something, providing encouragement and new activity. And that is precisely what I believe this great little set of 6 bible studies can do for you.

The study book “Sing for Joy” written by Nathan Lovell (2010) is produced by the insightful people at Matthias Media, as part of a range of Interactive Bible Studies. It would be a great shot in the arm for a flagging music team (or leader) as they work through it with others, in order to re-energise and refocus. It would allow you to raise and explore all those tricky issues about the behaviour and motives of church musicians/music in an unthreatening manner. Each study is around 8 pages long (in 60 page study booklet).

Here is a sampling of the topics you will discuss while diving into God’s Word together:
#1 What is Church and Why do we sing there? – looks at music as a natural expression of joy, and why singing is the right response for God’s gathered people.
#2 Praise be to God – looks at the nature of biblical praise, the songs of the Bible, and how we praise God in ways other than singing.
#3 True Worship – traces different meanings of the word “worship” and the implications for how God’s people serve in the Old and New Testament eras. The ideas of worship and sacrifice are explored through the texts of Romans 12 and Hebrews 12-13. Connections are drawn between true praise and true worship.
#4 The Function of Church Music – looks at the many different ways music benefits God’s gathered people.
#5 The Gift of Musicians – explores what it means to be gifted musically, and how to be a servant-hearted leader as a musician, rather than a self-focused one.
#6 Music & Lyrics – considers the importance of song lyrics which should “continually refocus our mind on Christ, teach us His Word and remind us of what he has done for us” (p.57)

One of the most useful and simple definitions given in these studies regarding with purpose of church singing was this: “we sing in church because we are rejoicing over who God is and what He has done for us. Our singing is a response to the Gospel – an extravagant, joyous response to our God who has delivered us from our enemies, redeemed us for Himself, and gathered us together as his people” (p.35)

Describing church musicians as both servants and leaders was a really interesting approach, and a really useful one I think.
“Like it or not, musicians are in the role of leadership within our congregations. It has always been this way. In David’s day there was a band consisting of 120 trumpets as well as cymbals, harps, lyres and a whole tribe of singers (2 Chronicles 5:12)! They dressed up in fine linen and stood apart from the rest of the congregation and led them in praise. What a spectacle that must have been!” (p.47)

We will definitely be discussing that at our next team meeting! You can order these studies by following this link to Matthias Media. I am sure they will help get your whole music team back on the same page. . . and singing from the same score!

How to suffer well

BOOK REVIEW: Suffering Well: The predictable surprise of Christian Suffering by Paul Grimmond (2011), Matthias Media.

It was John Wesley who famously said of Christians in his era “our people die well”.  Presumably they died strong in the faith, with an understanding that this life is not all there is, or all that matters, and with hope in the glorious future that awaits in Christ beyond the grave.

Could the same be said of Christians in the 21st century? How do we cope with suffering in general, let alone death? Do we suffer and die ‘well’?

In the first chapter of his challenging book ‘Suffering Well’ author Paul Grimmond states his case: when it comes to suffering we are prisoners of our age who have “lost touch with biblical truth because of the constant hum of worldly thinking that swirls around in our heads” (p.18). As a result we don’t know how to view suffering, to suffer well, or how to encourage one another in suffering for Christ.

I read this book during a month of suffering; it was not the sufferings of physical attack or public persecution, simply that the flu had descended, making an ordeal of every simple daily task. As I suffered and coughed, Grimmond’s book helped resolve some of the dilemmas about suffering which I had wrestled with before. Here are just two main points (of many great ones which the book raises) which will stay with me:

1. Don’t come to the Bible with the world’s view of suffering – start with Bible’s view and look at suffering in our world through those eyes. In the world’s view suffering, or at least the avoidance of suffering, is the new moral standard. According to Grimmond it is the only determinant of what is right: a disabled child will suffer, and so will the parents, so it is apparently “right” to terminate their existence before birth; the same goes for an injured dog and an old person with terminal cancer. Suffering is seen as the only evil, which must be avoided at all costs. “Suffering is a major part of the argument against God’s existence. The very presence of suffering . . . is a key piece of evidence. If we really have an all-good and all-powerful God then how can there possibly be suffering?” (p.25) More than that our world believes religion is one great cause of human suffering. “In our brave new world, suffering means that God is immoral and Christians are immoral” (p.28) since we believe in a God who would allow suffering to exist!

If we come to the Bible with this worldly view in our heads, no wonder we don’t know what to do with suffering, or how to speak up for the God who allows it. Grimmond takes us back to the Bible to see that God is in control, that God is God and I am not! He is the potter, we are His clay. God is in complete control over creation, which means that “the suffering of God’s creation occurs by his hands . . .Scripture never suggests suffering and difficulty come because God is out of control; rather . . . they come because he is IN control.” (p.46-7). This may seem a big and bitter pill to swallow, but it is the teaching of the Bible through and through. This God is not a god we have created, one the world would approve of, a benevolent grandfatherly figure who simply indulges us moment by moment. God wills, He purposes, He acts, He works all things together for good, including suffering. “The world is suffering because it stands under the heavy hand of God’s judgement . . . Our world, marked by suffering and death , is a world that has been bent out of shape BY GOD. . . God has visited upon us the results of our sin” (p48-49).
Yet this God has involved Himself in the suffering of His creation; suffering is at the heart of His plan to create a perfect world and glorify himself. Jesus faced the suffering that should be ours. While suffering may be painful and awful, it comes from the hand of a sovereign God who will use it for good, and who guarantees that good by the gift of his Son (p64).

2. Don’t downplay the real suffering for Christ that Western Christians experience – being scorned, reviled and mocked! In Chapter 6, entitled “Where’s all the persecution gone?” the discussion moves from the general suffering of our fallen world to specific suffering for being a Christian. Grimmond wants us to see that in taking up the cross of as Christ’s disciple, the imminent danger is not usually physical hardship, but the danger of being ashamed of Christ. “When we think of suffering for Christ “persecution” is the word we naturally use. But in the bible the language is much more diverse. It talks of being reviled and spoken against and maligned . . . The Bible’s big question for us is will you obey Jesus and speak for Him, or will you be ashamed of his words?” (p.96).  Grimmond sees the great danger for Western Christians is “the slow, spiritual death of a thousand tiny compromises crouched at the door, waiting to devour our hearts. . . at the moment we need it most we have let go of a robust theology of belonging to Christ and suffering for him”(p.97).  Though we live in a culture where words are cheap and people can say what they want and be rude to each other all the time, we don’t have to see it as weakness if those words really sting us. Grimmond suggests that we do not serve or encourage one another well when we say we don’t suffer, because it reinforces the view that suffering for Christ is only physical. “As a result we fail to teach each other to live without shame in the face of the more subtle pressures in our culture” (p.98).  So, this IS persecution and we discourage each other when we downplay it! We should also rebuke ourselves when we fear it or shy away from it. This is the shame we are NOT to be ashamed of! With regards to the promise of suffering for and with Christ, Grimmond insists we teach it to people from the moment of conversion. We must share this truth with our children so they grow up rejoicing that they’re counted as Christ’s when they suffer for him(p.103).

Grimmond says we also suffer as Christians because of our compassion. When we see the suffering, the sin, the lost people of this world through God’s eyes, it brings deep sorrow. And as for the ‘predictable surprise’ of the title . . . I might leave that for you to read about in chapter 5! If you want to get a better handle on the question of suffering, and find hope in the midst of it, grab a copy of Grimmond’s book, which successfully turns our eyes back to our Sovereign God, who is in control of all our suffering.

What are we Christians called to do in the face of suffering? We are called to wait well, to praise our God in every moment, and to ask for God’s strength to do good – even to our enemies (p.139).

You can buy Paul Grimmond’s book from Matthias Media by following this link: suffering-well

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